Report: Violent crime rate in East Palo Alto plunges

City saw a large drop in aggravated assaults in 2014

East Palo Alto's violent crime rate has plunged by 64 percent in one year, according to a newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation report.

The 2014 Crime in the United States report is based on information provided by local law enforcement agencies.

The astonishing statistic comes during a year when the city of 29,377 residents had four interim police chiefs. The city hired a new police chief, Albert Pardini, to replace Ronald Davis, who ran the East Palo Alto Police Department for eight years until November 2013.

Pardini, who took the helm in November 2014, vowed to keep reducing the violent crime rate. He was preceded by former city interim chief Federico Rocha, East Palo Alto captain Steve Belcher, former interim Menlo Park police chief Lee Violett and retired South San Francisco police chief Mark Raffaelli.

East Palo Alto's violent crimes went from 347 incidents in 2013 to 124 in 2014, according to the report. The city had the greatest drop in aggravated assaults, which plunged from 248 to 56. The city had eight cases of murder or manslaughter in 2013 and five in 2014. The number of rapes dropped from 11 to eight and robberies from 80 to 55.

Pardini said he couldn't comment on the crime reduction in 2014 because he became the police chief late in the year, but the most significant change he has seen is the community's involvement.

"They are calling us early so we can get involved before things escalate," he said. "We've done a lot of intervention, and that has reduced the violent crime."

Since becoming chief, the department has had a 70 percent increase in tip-line activity, Pardini said. The police department also provides domestic violence awareness programs as well as "gang awareness representations" for families so they know if their children are starting to enter the gang life.

The department holds monthly precinct meetings where people can meet and discuss neighborhood problems with officers, and officers attend community meetings set up by residents to observe and discuss problems specific to a street or neighborhood.

Rarely a week goes by when officers are not called to attend one of these meetings, Pardini said.

Pardini also holds quarterly town hall meetings, where he makes presentations to the community. He often walks different neighborhoods with a commander to meet people in front yards and get to know residents. And people have been forthcoming with information about crimes and community problems, he said.

The department is also using its website to post weekly updates and information as well as to quell rumors.

The combination of police presence, familiarity and transparency appears to be paying off. Summer months are usually when cities see higher homicide rates, but 2015 was the first time in three years to have two back-to-back months without a homicide in East Palo Alto, Pardini said.

"In 2014, we had a homicide in July, August, September and October. This year we had none in August and September," he said.

Per capita, in 2014 East Palo Alto had 53 percent fewer violent crimes than San Francisco and roughly 25 percent more than San Jose, according to FBI numbers.

Compared to surrounding cities, East Palo Alto had 4.79 times more violent crimes per capita than Palo Alto, 2.7 times more than Menlo Park and 2.1 times more than Mountain View.

The city invites East Palo Alto residents who want to work with the police department to further reduce the crime rate and learn more about what is going on to visit the East Palo Alto Police Department's website.

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